The History of Dictionaries

“DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.”
– Bierce[1]

Dictionaries are most commonly known for being long lists of words and their definitions. This article explores the history of dictionaries. When was the word dictionary coined? And when were the first dictionaries compiled? Keep reading to see my answers to these questions.

The word dictionary itself was coined in the 16th century, some 400 years ago. It comes from the “Medieval Latin dictionarium “collection of words and phrases””, which itself has origins supposedly in the 13th century. Reportedly, it’s probable that Sir Thomas Elyot’s 1538 “Latin Dictionary” was the first time that the English word was used in a book’s title.[1]

Dictionaries began to be studied systematically in the 20th century. Akkadian cuneiform tablets dated to 2300 BCE are considered the oldest known dictionaries.[2]

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[1] – Accessed 22 Nov. 2020.

[2] – Accessed 24 Nov. 2020.

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